Friday, October 18, 2013

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My son: soccer champion! (Why is my husband pushing my son so hard to be an athlete?) Part III

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 If you have not read My son: soccer champion! (Why is my husband pushing my son so hard to be an athlete?) Part I, you can do so be clicking here. You can read part II by clicking here.

After Tristan went to bed, Mel said, “Tristan told me that you are a mean Dad and that you smell like a stinky fart wrapped in poo.”
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I told him that wasn’t a nice thing to say about his dad. But I didn’t push it too far because I wanted to get your opinion first.”
She smiled at me and shrugged, “Maybe he’s right.”
Mel leaned into my chest and took a sniff. I pushed her away.
            She took a step back, narrowed her eyes, folded her arms, and gave me the Mom Look.
“Why would he say something like that?” she asked.
All mothers have the look. It strikes fear in the hearts of all children. I’d experienced it from a million mothers, including my own. But what I didn’t know as a child was that this look is also used on husbands. And sadly, it is more effective later in life because a husband has spent years being afraid of the Mom Look. I don’t know if the Mom Look is nature or nurture. Perhaps it is all part of a clever plan devised by women to slowly gain power over men. Or perhaps it is some inherent talent that women are born with and men are meant to dread. But what I do know is that Mel had it down. And she was using it on me, like she had in the past. And just like always, I knew that she wanted the truth. And I knew that I would give it to her because her Mom Look was all-powerful. The truth was going to be followed by a poignant lecture that would cause me to change my actions. I could see the future, and yet I could not change it. 
Mom Look= Power!

            We sat on the sofa and I came clean. I told her that what I wanted from Tristan was for him to be accepted for playing sports. I told her how I’d always felt like an outcast as a man because I didn’t enjoy sports. And Mel nodded, quickly, like she often does when I tell her something she already knows. I mentioned how I’d been pushing Tristan to be better. I told her how frustrated I got with him for picking his nose or his butt. I went on for some time. And after a little while, Mel placed her hand on my knee, and I stopped talking.
            We sat in silence for a while. Then I said, “I just want to be a good dad. But I don’t really know what that looks like.”
“How often did your Dad show up to practice?” Mel asked.
            “He didn’t,” I said. “He didn’t show up to anything really. And if he did, he was usually drunk.” I reminded her of the story I often tell of my father showing up to my sophomore parent teacher conference unannounced and drunk. How much he embarrassed me with his slurred words, sweet smell, and sloppy stride, and how I’d have been happier if he’d just stayed away.
            “You haven’t missed a practice,” She said. “You’re a supportive dad. You show up. You help Tristan with his cleats and other things. I think you’re over compensating. I don’t think you need to do much more than just be there for him.”
            I thought about Tristan calling me a mean Dad, which was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I wanted to be known as the cool dad. The knowledgeable dad. The dad that could do anything, and be anything. Super Dad! When boys on Tristan’s playground went back and forth about which dad could beat up another dad, I wanted to be the undisputed victor. Mel was right. I was over compensating.

            Before the next practice, I took Tristan to Dari-Mart, a corner store down the street from our house. More or less, it’s a lowbrow gas station that doesn’t sell gas, but rather discounted cigarettes, dairy products, and beer. Sadly it is his favorite place to go for treats because they have Sponge Bob popsicles. We each got a frozen treat and then walked down the street to the park. We didn’t bring a soccer ball. We were heading to the swings. He wanted me to give him an underdog followed by a super push. By the time we reached the park, we’d finished our ice cream. Tristan climbed into the swing. I gripped the chains and ran forward, lifting him up and over my head, and then letting him fall behind my back. Then I walked around to the back of the swing, and gave him the super push, hard toss with both hands.
            “That’s high enough!” he screamed.
            He laughed for a while. And once his momentum slowed, I stood over him while holding the chains and told him that I was sorry about pushing him so hard to play soccer, and that I was not going to do that any more.
“I just want you to have fun,” I said.
I thought about telling him about my father. I thought about telling him what I wanted from our relationship, about how I wanted to be the coolest dad ever and how I wanted him to be able to talk sports with other boys. But I didn’t. I don’t think I needed too. Tristan smiled up at me. He looked relieved, like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
He raised his hand to give me five, and I put my hand down low. He smacked it hard with his open palm. Hard enough that it stung.
“Oh!” I said. “Stinger!” I shook my hand.
Tristan laughed and I knew we were good.
            I still went to all of his practices. But I didn’t say anything. I just watched. And although he was still picking grass on occasion, he started to pay more attention to the game. He started to smile more when he was there. He seemed to be having more fun, and I think it’s because the pressure was off. He didn’t have to worry about me coming down on him. He was not the best player on the team. But I don’t think he was the worst, either. And with each practice, I just took pride in watching him improve.
            His first couple games went well. Mel and I sat on the sidelines and cheered him on. But on the third game, the team really started to take off. They were passing, and kicking, and all around playing like a team. And Tristan was part of that team. And that felt good.
            Just before half time, Tristan was positioned next to the goal. He was passed the ball. And without hesitation, he turned, and kicked a goal.
            I raised my hands and cheered.
I called out, “Tristan!!!”
            Tristan ran across the field, looked at me, smiled, and pointed. I felt a burst of pride. At first I assumed it was because he kicked a goal. But now I think it’s because the first thing he wanted was for me to know about it. We shared a moment across the soccer field. A dewy-eyed moment. And I have a strong feeling that years from now, both Tristan and I will give anything to go back in time to relive it. 
An equally dewy-eyed moment

            Although we are not supposed to keep score at this age, Tristan’s team won 4 to 0. Earlier in the game, a parent from an opposing team told her child to attack the ball.
            “I can’t,” the boy replied. “They’re just too good!”
            “No, they’re not!” the mom said.
            Yes they are, I thought. Yes. They. Are.

If you enjoyed this essay, you will also enjoy, "Another one… (Why do discussions about having babies make my husband nauseous?) Part I."

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University. 


marilee said...

I cried when you told about him pointing to you after he made the goal. I enjoy reading your stories (except for the 'bad' words).

Clint said...

Thanks, Marilee! That really means a lot!

Joan said...

I'm so happy that you figured it out!

Clint said...

So am I, Joan.

Chris Schwarz said...

Adrian, my 14 year old boy, and I read this together and laughed at the same parts. Neither of us play, watch, or identify with sports. Either of us can fix your computer though.

Clint said...

I am happy to know that I am not alone, Chris.